What is a Hospitalist?

FEBRUARY 1, 2016

Most people have experience with different types of doctors throughout their lives. As children, we see Pediatricians. In adulthood, we see a family physician or doctor of Internal Medicine. An expecting mother sees an Obstetrician/Gynecologist. If you’ve broken your arm and require surgery, you’ll probably get to know an Orthopedic Surgeon. You may see an Ophthalmologist if you’re having vision issues. And if you find yourself in the hospital, you might see a Hospitalist.

If you’re asking “what is a Hospitalist?” that’s understandable. It’s a relatively new term, and if you’ve not been hospitalized for an illness or surgery, you’d have no reason to know one. But it is possible that someday, whether you yourself are the patient or are accompanying a family member or close friend who is, you’ll get to know a Hospitalist.

“As a Hospitalist, I serve as the primary care physician for patients during their hospital stay,” says Dr. Adib Asrabadi, a Texas Health Care Hospitalist who works at Harris Methodist Hospital, Fort Worth. “I’m involved in every facet of the patient’s care in the hospital, and it’s my job to coordinate all aspects of treatment for the patient.”

The term Hospitalist originated in the mid-1990’s and was first used in the New England Journal of Medicine. According to the Society of Hospital Medicine, the professional group for Hospitalists, “Hospitalists are physicians whose primary professional focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients. Their activities include patient care, teaching, research, and leadership related to Hospital Medicine.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports that the use of hospitalists is increasing. In 2011, more than one out of four Medicare hospital claims listed a hospitalist as the attending physician.

Hospitalists often handle the admissions process in the hospital, triaging patients and setting up their treatment. Hospitalists then focus on all aspects of care the patient receives while in the hospital: they coordinate care between multiple specialists, ensure that tests and labs are ordered and conducted in a timely manner, have the complete picture of all prescription medication the patient may be receiving and provide updates and information to the patient and family members.

Additionally, the hospitalist stays in touch with the patient’s primary care physician, as well as any specialists the patient sees, in order to provide needed updates and make any adjustments to the patient’s treatment. Hospitalists discuss treatment options with the patient and answer questions, then coordinate with specialists or other providers to schedule procedures or tests. Additionally, the hospitalist is there to help diagnose and treat any unexpected situations that may arise.

“The hospitalist is of great value to the patient, who does not have to wait for their regular doctor to make hospital rounds or hear back from a specialist, who may be tied up in surgery,” said Dr. Ramu Rangineni, a Texas Health Care member who serves as a Hospitalist at Harris Methodist Southwest Hospital. “We pride ourselves on delivering quality care for our patients, so we can get them well and then get them home.”

If needed, Hospitalists also help arrange post-hospital medical care for the patient and work with insurance companies on treatment and billing questions.

Another role Hospitalists fill is that of researchers. Their research helps inform best practices in hospital settings with the goal of improving care, shortening hospital stays and controlling costs.

No one wants to have to stay in the hospital, but sometimes an illness or surgery requires it. And when it does, you just may find that a Hospitalist is there to care for you and help you get better.